HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF CONFERENCES
Conferences are what you make of them. If you’re not sure why you’re going, or what you want to get out of the experience, you’re unlikely to get it. This essay gives one perspective on conferences, and how to make them more valuable and engaging experiences.
Firstly, thankyou Scott Berkun. I’m off to the Australian International Documentary Conference in South Australia in a little over 10 days, and have been looking for some advice. Now here you are in 2003, providing some handy pointers that still sound relevant in 2012.
Scott’s essay lists a smorgasboard of conference tips. Here’s a few that stand out:
- Plan your time well beforehand
- “Conversations are more valuable than the sessions”
- Spend your time not only listening, but contributing as well
- Ask lots of questions
- Tips for after-hours socialising: raise the idea early in the day, create a central meeting point
- Consider the benefits and drawbacks of going with co-workers
- Relax: don’t cram, you learn more when you’re not stressed
And my favourite:
- Don’t wear your badge outside the conference. There is nothing sillier than a grown adult with a name tag (unless it says Rupert or Cornelius on it).
Poor Rupert & Cornelius :-)
THE PANEL CHALLENGE
I’ve been involved in setting up the panel on Educating the Future, so was naturally drawn to Scott’s candid observations about panel sessions.
A panel session has 4 or 5 invited speakers sharing a time slot together.
In better panel sessions, there is a diversity of points of view, and everyone is comfortable sharing them. But too often, panelists shy away from the intended topic, or avoid disagreeing with their co-panelists.
They often feel pressure to represent their company or organization, which inhibits active and provocative discourse. This is why most panel sessions suck. It’s up to the organizer to avoid making this happen, but since they’re grateful for the panelists to attend at all, it’s usually hard to exert control over the tone of the session.
Worse, some panels don’t allow for discussion, giving too much time to prepared presentations from each panelist. For these and other reasons, panels are a wild card, and often result in a fairly bland experience for everyone involved. When it works though, and the right people are invited and facilitated by the organizer in the right way, it can be the most enlightening session you’ll see at a conference.
OK. We’ve been told!
- Feel free to disagree with co-panelists
- Be honest, not bland (as Scott would say:"don’t suck"),
- and allow enough time for discussion.
Moderator Anna Yates (EnhanceTV), if it works can you thank me?
If it flops, can we blame you?
If anyone else is thinking of coming along to our panel session – or any other for that matter – take Scott’s advice and contribute. Ask lots of questions. There’s nothing worse than throwing it open for questions, only to then sit in silence. Well it’s embarrassing for us, but you miss out too.
KEEPING THE PASSION
Finally, the focus of the week is documentary, of course. Documentary is one of the most significant genres in the education sector, which is one of the reasons I’ll be there representing Campfire. But the other reason is more personal. The documentary genre is a passion of mine, largely because its creative and artistic merit is often undervalued. I think it has a special ability to inspire and engage audiences.
I came across an article by William Head (NightFare, Graphic Music, Buiten & others), after his experiences at a past AIDC (doco) conference:
After so much focus on the getting of finance, it was something of a relief to have a master-class with director Geoffrey Smith (who made The English Surgeon), in which he implored us to forget tailoring our films to broadcasters, sales agents and funding bodies and instead follow a passion to find ways to make films of impeccable quality. This, he said, is the best way to encourage interest from media organisations.
I want to connect again with producers of documentaries – young and old alike – who share my passion. I want to keep front of mind why I’m there. What a fantastic opportunity to be re-invigorated about those things which inspire us, and meet others who share a similar passion. Surely that’s how we all get the most out of conferences.
Why are you going?
I hope to see you there.
Oh, and thanks again for your tips Scott!